Reading the Death in Literary Works (A Comparison between "Dokter Dan Maut" and A Christmas Carol)

By Sudarmoko | K@ta, June 2011 | Go to article overview

Reading the Death in Literary Works (A Comparison between "Dokter Dan Maut" and A Christmas Carol)


Sudarmoko, K@ta


Abstract: This paper compares two literary works written by an Indonesian and a British author. There are some different points of views regarding the phenomenon of death in these literary works. In contrary, there are also similarities between the two texts. Social, cultural and religious backgrounds influence the way of looking at and discussing the theme and the different way of solving a problem as well. This comparison of literary works provides an example of how an Indonesian and British person deal with the same theme in their literary works and make differences in terms of exploring the theme in their works.

Key words: comparative literature, Indonesia and British, the death, prose

In this paper I would like to discuss the phenomenon of death in literary works.* This discussion is based on two works of Navis' short story (2002, pp. 1-24) and Charles Dickens' novel (first published 1843). Both works tell the phenomenon of death and how people face the angel of death. I chose these stories with the intention of comparing the way of looking at the same theme from a different background, namely cultural and religious background. The first story was written by an Indonesian Muslim man and the second by a British Christian person. This comparison is a basis for finding differences in using metaphors and deriving diverse meanings from them. For this reason, the discussion is focused on the metaphors of death.

Death is a mystery of life. People have different ways of looking at death. From a religious point of view, death is a life circle differently phrased in each religion. Death cannot be avoided by people because it is an obligatory consequence of human life. People also have different interpretations of the death phenomenon. This difference is based on the culture, religion, or environment which influences the people's frame of mind. For example, Hindus think that death is a phase of change for the soul to achieve a better place, called nirvana. So, death is just a step to rebirth, after which the soul finds a better life according to Hindu teachings. Good deeds are as a condition for the soul of entering nirvana based on Hindu teaching.

In some societies, death ceremonies are more important than other ceremonies such as ceremonies related to birth or marriage. For instance, in Tana Toraja, it takes a long time to complete a death ceremony and also requires a lot of money. Many philosophers also propose the problem of death. Yet, from philosophical point of view, this phenomenon is more complicated and has a relationship with other problems such as time, space, material, and the essence of life. In short, the phenomenon of death remains an unsolved theme explored by most fields of studies and demands a lot of attention from experts, scholars, students and religious thinkers.

Actually, death in literary works is a central theme, even though it is mostly unexplored by critics or scholars. For example, Elisabeth Bronfen and Sarah Webster Goodwin (1993, p. 10) say that death is the major agon of the psyche, the major subject of the text. No consideration of psychic representation can afford to ignore or deny the centrality of death to the psyche's self-construct, just as semiotics can suppress the positioning of the sign in reference to the non-semiotic, the perpetually resistant reality that death represents. This phrase indicates the important role of the death theme in literary works. Perhaps, amidst the lack of information sources and references, this paper may give a simple contribution to literary criticism, especially in comparative literature and Indonesian literature on the whole.

As a real life phenomenon in literary works, death is still an interesting theme worth of exploring. An interesting phenomenon is the exploration of death in the literary works with war being the theme and setting. Many people got injured or died in wars. But many authors wrote literary works based on these wars, and we as readers are interested in these works. …

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